5 AMAZING National Parks Near Honolulu You’ll Love (Complete Guide)

Imagine unearthing paradise within paradise: just a short hop from Honolulu’s vibrant cityscape lies a constellation of national parks, each a world unto itself.

These are not your typical weekend getaways; they are gateways to awe-inspiring landscapes and natural wonders that will make your heart skip a beat.

From the silent majesty of towering volcanoes to the tranquil beauty of hidden coastal enclaves, these parks offer an adventure to a seasoned explorer or a curious traveler. In this article, we’ve curated everything you need to know about five amazing national parks near Honolulu.

So grab your camera and your curiosity—Hawaii’s natural treasures await just beyond the city’s pulse.

1. Haleakalā National Park

Haleakalā National Park, located on the island of Maui, not far from Honolulu, is an absolute must-visit for nature enthusiasts. This stunning park is renowned for its breathtaking sunrise and sunset views from the summit of the Haleakalā volcano. It’s unique landscape, with its vast volcanic craters and rare flora and fauna, makes it a spectacular destination.

Haleakalā National Park

How to Get There

To reach Haleakalā National Park from Honolulu, you will need to fly to Lanai first (HNL to LNY). Then, take a ferry from Manele Harbor, Lanai to Lahaina Harbor in Maui. Finally, travel by car or shuttle from Lahaina Harbor to the park.

Things to Do at Haleakalā National Park

Haleakalā offers a wide range of activities to indulge in, ensuring there is something for everyone:

  • Sunrise/Sunset Viewing: One of the most unforgettable experiences is watching the sunrise or sunset above the clouds from the summit of Haleakalā.
  • Hiking: The park offers numerous trails, perfect for hikers of all skill levels. Exploring the park’s diverse landscapes via hiking trails is a great way to connect with nature.
  • Stargazing: On clear nights, you can marvel at the glittering stars from the summit. The park’s high altitude and absence of light pollution make for an extraordinary atmosphere for astronomers and stargazers alike.

Best Time to Visit and Other Things to Know

The park is open year-round, but the best time to visit Haleakalā National Park is during the drier months of April through October. Mornings and evenings can be chilly, so remember to dress in layers.

For sunrise viewing, reservations are required and should be made well in advance. The park charges an entrance fee, and there are a variety of passes available to suit your individual or family needs.

To fully enjoy your experience at this astounding park, be prepared and plan ahead, so you can create lasting memories in this rare and sacred landscape.

2. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must-visit destination when you’re near Honolulu. This incredible park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. As a designated International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site, it offers unique experiences that you shouldn’t miss.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

How to Get There

To reach Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from Honolulu, the most convenient way is to take a flight to Hilo International Airport on the Big Island. Several airlines offer daily flights. Once you arrive, it’s a 45-minute drive to the park. You can rent a car at the airport or use public transportation on the Hele-On Bus. For a scenic drive, consider taking Highway 11, also known as the Volcano Road.

Things to Do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

  • Explore the Crater Rim Drive: This 11-mile long drive offers stunning views of the Kīlauea Caldera and the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater. There are various scenic overlooks and hiking trails along the way.
  • Hike the Kīlauea Iki Trail: This moderately challenging 4-mile loop trail takes you through a lush rainforest and down into the Kīlauea Iki Crater. Experience stunning views and walk on the cooled lava from the 1959 eruption.
  • Visit the Jaggar Museum and Overlook: Though the museum is currently closed, the overlook from the nearby Hawai’i Pacific Parks Association (HPPA) store offers a striking view of the Kīlauea Caldera.
  • Discover the Thurston Lava Tube: Walk through the Nāhuku, a lava tube created by flowing lava hundreds of years ago5. This 20-minute walk is an easy and fascinating experience.

Best Time to Visit and Other Things to Know

The park is open year-round, but the most popular time to visit is during the drier months between April and October. The weather is more favorable for hikes and outdoor activities. However, be prepared for occasional rain and cooler temperatures as you move to higher elevations.

The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle and allows access for seven days. It is important to note that there are no gas stations within the park, so fill up your vehicle before entering. The Kīlauea Visitor Center provides helpful information about the park and current volcanic activity. Don’t forget to check for any safety updates before planning your activities in the park.

3. Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Kalaupapa National Historical Park is a unique location that tells the story of Hawaii’s history with Hansen’s disease (leprosy). This park, located on the isolated Kalaupapa Peninsula on the north shore of Molokai, offers a window into the lives of the more than 8,000 people who have died there since 1866, mostly Hawaiians. It’s a must-visit for those interested in history and beautiful landscapes.

Kalaupapa National Historical Park
KALA Vanishing Treasures” by lsasser is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Photo may have been modified, resized, or cropped from original.

How to Get There

Getting to Kalaupapa National Historical Park involves a combination of travel options. The easiest way is to fly from Honolulu (HNL) to Molokai (MKK). After arriving in Molokai, you will need to book a guided tour as independent exploring is not allowed for visitors. The tour typically includes a scenic mule ride or a hike down the 3-mile Kalaupapa Trail, which descends 1,700 feet to the park.

Things to Do at Kalaupapa National Historical Park

1. Guided Tours: The park is only accessible as part of a guided tour, so book a Kalaupapa Guided Tour to explore the location’s history and absorb the stunning views fully.

2. Learn about Hawaii’s Leprosy History: Visit the Kalaupapa Settlement, where patients with Hansen’s disease were once banished and hear stories about the resilience of the afflicted and the dedicated care provided by people like Saint Damien and Saint Marianne Cope.

3. Photography: Although “picturesque” is an understatement, the spectacular views offered by the park are ideal for photography enthusiasts. Capture the dramatic landscapes, such as lush green cliffs meeting the azure ocean.

Best Time to Visit and Other Things to Know

The best time to visit Kalaupapa National Historical Park is during the drier months from April to October. However, since Molokai experiences moderate temperatures throughout the year, any time can be enjoyable. The park is open year-round except for Sundays and holidays.

There is a park entry fee required for visitors aged 16 years and above, and tour prices may vary.

Keep in mind that cell phone coverage is limited in the park, so be prepared to disconnect and immerse yourself in the rich history and breathtaking views that Kalaupapa National Historical Park has to offer.

4. Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a significant site in American history, commemorating the events of December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, propelling the United States into World War II. A visit to this memorial offers an opportunity to learn about this crucial moment in history and honor those who served.

Pearl Harbor National Memorial
Aloha: Pearl Harbor, USS Missouri, National Memorial Cemetary” by LimpingFrog Productions is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

How to Get There

To reach the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, you’ll need to first make your way to Honolulu, Hawaii. Once you’re in Honolulu, travel by car or public transportation to the memorial site, which is located at 1 Arizona Memorial Place. You may also take guided tours or shuttle services that include transportation to and from the memorial.

Things to Do at Pearl Harbor National Memorial

While visiting the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, there are a variety of activities that will enrich your knowledge of this historical event:

Pearl Harbor National Memorial
  • Pearl Harbor Visitor Center: Explore the museum galleries, which provide context and understanding of the attack on Pearl Harbor and its impact on the world.
  • USS Arizona Memorial: Reflect on the lives lost during the attack as you visit the iconic memorial that spans over the sunken battleship.
  • USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park: Discover the world of submarines and immerse yourself in the history of WWII’s “Silent Service.”
  • USS Missouri Battleship: Walk the decks of the “Mighty Mo,” where the Japanese surrender took place, marking the end of World War II.
  • Pacific Aviation Museum: Learn about the history of military aviation and its role in the events of Pearl Harbor by viewing vintage aircraft and interactive exhibits.

Best Time to Visit and Other Things to Know

The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, except on major U.S. holidays. The best time to visit is during the morning hours when it’s less crowded and the temperature is cooler. However, the site sees visitors year-round, so be prepared for crowds during peak tourist season.

There is no admission fee to visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial museums and grounds. However, program reservations are recommended for specific exhibits and tours.

For a more in-depth experience, consider purchasing tickets for guided tours and additional museum access. Be aware that security measures are in place, so it’s important to review the list of prohibited items, such as large bags, before your visit.

5. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, located on the west coast of Hawai’i, offers visitors a chance to explore the rich Hawaiian history and culture. This 400-acre park serves as a spiritual sanctuary and a refuge for modern-day travelers.

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

How to Get There

To reach the park, flying into Kona International Airport is your best option. From the airport, rent a car and drive about 20 miles south on State Hwy 160. The drive takes approximately 45 minutes, and there is ample parking at the park. Public transportation options are limited, so renting a car is strongly recommended.

Things to Do at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

  1. Visitor Center: Begin your adventure at the Visitor Center, open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Here, you’ll find information about the park, Junior Ranger booklets, and a bookstore to enhance your visit.
  2. Guided Park Tours: Take part in a ranger-led tour to learn about the park’s history and significance. These walks provide an immersive experience as you explore the park with an expert.
  3. Ki’i Carvings: Marvel at the impressive wooden carvings representing ancient gods, scattered throughout the park. These statues were placed to protect the sacred grounds.
  4. Wildlife Watching: Keep an eye out for sea turtles, monk seals, and various species of fish near the park’s shoreline.
Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Best Time to Visit and Other Things to Know

The park is open year-round, but the ideal time to visit is during the dry season, from April to October. Keep in mind that weekends and holidays can be busier, so plan your visit accordingly.

Admission to the park is free for pedestrians, but there is a nominal vehicle entrance fee. Be prepared with cash or credit card upon arrival. For the most enjoyable experience, bring sunscreen, water, and comfortable walking shoes to fully appreciate this beautiful park.

Immerse yourself in the ancient Hawaiian culture at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park and create memories that will last a lifetime.

5 AMAZING National Parks Near Honolulu: A Recap

With diverse landscapes, unique flora, and intriguing cultural history, these national parks offer mesmerizing experiences.

Some of these parks include the Haleakalā National Park, which offers mind-blowing volcanic landscapes and opportunities to witness breathtaking sunrises, and the culturally significant Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park on Hawaiʻi Island, which sheds light on Hawaiian culture and history.

To make the most of exploring these parks, set aside plenty of time to wander through and fully take their unique charm. Equip yourself with a good camera, comfortable footwear, and a spirit of adventure. Pack your bags and embark on exciting, new experiences that these National Parks near Honolulu have to offer.

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